March 28, 2024
Wine & Dine

The delicious world of chocolate

With Easter celebrations now in full swing, Paul Wood ventures out across Adelaide to find South Australian chocolatiers who are literally breaking the mould and creating good chocolate with the right ingredients and dollops of pure imagination.

Food writer Paul Wood has done some serious research into Adelaide’s top chocolate producers.

When it comes to sourcing good chocolate, cities like Brussels, Paris and Tokyo come to mind. In each of these places, you’ll find hundreds of shops selling top-notch chocs, often at out-of-this-world prices. I’ve done plenty of sweet-infused tours across all of these cities – and many others – hitting the big names such as Pierre Hermé, Angelina, Fauchon and la Maison du Chocolat.

I’ve tasted treats from the oldest chocolate store in France, and taken a behind-the-scenes tour at Mondelez, the place in regional Victoria where Cadbury puts its beans through the blender. It was about as far from the magic of Willy Wonka’s wondrous caverns of creation as you could get; people in stark white labs, comparing their newest flavours against their competitor’s.

But when it comes to inventing, South Australia has some of the best chocolatiers. I know this, because I’ve eaten my way through just about all of them … I’ve got a few (extra) notches in my belt, but my dedication to the candy cause is nothing without the support of the people behind the bars.

A chocolatier’s job is not just about manufacturing sweet treats. It takes imagination, passion, patience, a trained palate, well-practised science and just a touch of magic, all while making sure they never lose their temper. I’m not talking about anger, of course, but the most important part of chocolate-making – achieving the perfect shine and that quintessential crack of each block, or curl, bonbon, or truffle. They call it the temperature curve method, whereas I used to call it the luck of the microwave. Colour me dull and streaky, nine times out of 10.

After spending some time with the best in the business I’m now aware of a few magic numbers: 45, 27, 32. These are the three Celsius temperatures you need when heating, then cooling and then reheating chocolate to achieve the perfect temper.

More than just a sugar-rush, chocolate tasting can be a full sensory experience, almost as complex as wine but without the need to wait for scents, flavours and textures to develop in a cellar. The work begins as trained experts select the beans, the additions, the exclusions, the process, and then the packaging. It’s the final layer of creating the full immersive experience, and in gaining a brand’s spot next to the best in the business.

As one of Adelaide’s first independent chocolatiers, Steven ter Horst’s road to success was a long one, with plenty of learning along the way. Leaning into his European heritage, he began creating with one aim: flavour. It’s at the forefront of all Steven ter Horst creations, but he relies on natural ingredients to create sweetness, rather than adding more sugar when formulating his final product.

It’s all about balance: Adixions Cocoa Rouge atop a stack of Signature Luxe bonbons and assorted treats, Haigh’s Australian Selection and The Sugar Man Summer Pavlova.

He started in a small, shared space in the western suburbs before moving to his first store in Unley, then skipping into the city in a Rundle Street locale that (while delicious and nicely appointed) was fraught with disruptions to trade. Finally, this seemingly transient chocolatier and pâtissier, opened his King William Road store in Hyde Park, which came complete with a dedicated chocolate-making kitchen and a retail frontage.

European chocolatiers may claim to have supplied chocolates to one of the many royal lineages over the centuries, but in more recent and relevant history, I once served some flavour-filled domes created by Steven to the current King of England, when he was on a Royal Visit to SA, but was still a prince, so there’s that.

At some point prior to all this, Steven spent an entire season perfecting his salted caramel, which he sells by the jar and still uses today, as a flavour in other creations. His whiskey caramel domes are a booze-infused dream, and his uber cool turbo bunnies, splattered individually and lining his retail shelves every Easter have now been replaced with diamond bunnies, a geometric trend emerging around the globe.

Innovation aside, when it comes to the base ingredient, Steven’s aim is simple: to step away from sweetness and introduce new flavour profiles without the addition of sugar. Take his London Fog for example, a French Earl Grey tea-infused milk chocolate block. Fit for a royal, I’d say.

But for SA to lay claim to being a great chocolate city, it takes a few sugar-coated champions to lead the charge. And if there’s one family name that should be given kudos in our state, it’s Haigh; a family that has poured everything they have into chocolate for more than a century. And if the reputation and sales of giant frogs and speckles are anything to go by, Haigh’s Chocolates have been doing things right. They’re also about to pour plenty more investment and chocolate, thanks to their new $130 million factory. Now, that’s a lot of chocolate speckles.

South Australian chocolatiers are breaking the mould with their creations.
South Australian chocolatiers are breaking the mould with their creations.

Of course, the Haigh’s expansion project is about growth and automation and creating efficiencies, but what other way can a South Australian business expand its global footprint? Haigh’s chocolates have 21 stores and counting, a success that will eventually be measured in a thousand more tonnes, a bunch of new stores and plenty more smiles.

Regardless of their trajectory into the chocolate-dipped stratosphere, Haigh’s still manages to keep things local, with new product ranges using native Australian ingredients. The latest release is a range created in partnership with Warndu, a Clare Valley-based business that has selected special Indigenous food and botanical flavour combinations to complement Haigh’s chocolate. While the partnership runs for three years, each release is limited, reflecting seasonality and the need to be mindful of the limited availability of some of these foraged and wild-harvested native ingredients. The latest releases are lemon myrtle and pepper leaf in dark, and a milk chocolate infused with riberry and sandalwood nut, a unique and tasty flavour.

Chocolate also has an affiliation with sensuality; it might be the endorphins when we’re eating it, or perhaps the serotonin, but it could be the oxytocin and dopamine, too; at least that’s what Vicki Papazaharias from Adixions Chocolates puts chocolate’s allure down to.

The science of chocolate goes beyond just chemistry. It’s biology. It’s also about luxurious moments of indulgence, and we all like to feel just a little bit naughty. Chocolate is more than just eating, it’s a full sensory experience. But it’s not the size that counts, it’s about savouring each bite and enjoying the moment. Quality over quantity … sorry, what were we talking about? Oh yes, flavour. And a bittersweet tale of temperance.

For Vicki, coming from a science background, all it took was a major in microbiology, a minor sweet tooth and a penchant for passion, that transformed her into the newest recruit into the chocolate-making world. She combined aphrodisia with alchemy when launching her range, and hasn’t looked back. From dipping juicy Kangaroo Island figs into 64 per cent dark chocolate, to some suggestive vanilla kisses, it’s the Adixions Luxe bonbon selection that will really put you in the mood.

Now, the saying might go that it’s hard to put a price on luxury, but what about taste? Chocolates are often described as being rich in flavour, but that’s not necessarily relevant to the cost of ingredients that go into producing each one. Wonka famously sourced his cocoa beans from Oompa Loompa Land, and while you never caught the fictitious chocolatier adding a premium on to his price, today’s artisans do put a price on quality. Typically here in South Australia makers purchase their cocoa by the kilogram, direct from growers.

Sweet tooth Paul Wood will go to great lengths to enjoy chocolate …

SA’s hard-working chocolate artisans are often inspired by the work of mentors and other masters of the craft. For The Sugar Man, Alex Crawford, his journey into the magical world of chocolate was inspired by his teacher, mentor and now friend, the famed sweet magician Adriano Zumbo. From macarons, to creating blocks of flavour and pastry-related treats in every imaginable combination, The Sugar Man has earned his reputation for creation, attested by the line-up outside his Hutt Street store every weekend.

While Wonka and his real-life counterparts may scour the globe for what they think are the best ingredients to complement their chocolate, The Sugar Man knows that it’s regional and seasonal that always comes up trumps. He’s hyper-local and isn’t afraid to put his money where his mouth is, to ensure top-notch ingredients and quality, above all else.

The Sugar Man names suppliers right there on his eye-catching, hand-illustrated packaging. Each one is a gift, that doesn’t need wrapping. Whether it’s raspberries from the Adelaide Hills in a pastry creation, or egg whites to make the meringue that eventually lands in his (utterly moreish) Summer Pavlova white chocolate block, his suppliers are as important as the chocolate’s final taste.

Creating good chocolate takes the right ingredients and some pure imagination, but it also takes science; and nobody can argue with that.

This article first appeared in the March 2024 issue of SALIFE magazine.

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